Twelve Tuneful Ways We Conserve Water & Power While Boondocking

~ A song-inspired list ~

No matter what you’ve got by way of power sources or water tank capacity in your RV, here are a dozen ways to extend the life of both while dry camping (boondocking). Don’t miss the item at the end that brings us up to a baker’s dozen!

All set up in the desert.
No power? No water? No problem!

Our own big test came in January of 2017, when we spent a personal record 12 days without electrical, water, or sewer hookups, on BLM land just outside Quartzsite, AZ with an RV social group called the Xscapers.

Since singing a cheerful tune makes any situation better, at least according to Disney cartoons, I did a lot of singing while I learned to waste not, want not in the desert.

Sing along with me!

In the Navy

You might not be near a Y-M-C-A, so learn to take Navy showers! As a retired naval officer, Tim is an expert. Get wet, turn off the water, lather yourself up, then turn the water back on for a quick rinse. If you don’t have a shower head with toggle switch, get one. It helps keep the water temperature right where you want it for that rinse.

Makes for a right handy microphone, now don’t it?

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

If you’ve got an onboard washer-dryer, wear clothes maybe a few more times than usual so that you can go a week or longer without running either one. If you just have to do a quick load of underthings and socks, take advantage of a warm breezy day to hang them outside to dry. Amuse your neighbors!

 

You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman

Ladies, go au naturel when it comes to your face. Skipping the makeup saves at least one hand-washing and one face-washing each day, and it’s liberating. Give it a try!

 

It’s Only A Paper Moon

We compromised on paper plate waste by using them for only one meal a day. And speaking of paper, you’re going to want an extra roll or two of paper towels, for wiping off regular dishes before washing. See next song.

 

Splish Splash

Give your dishes a bath — the non-paper ones, of course. We washed dishes only once each day, and used a dish pan to help conserve water. On Night 1: put a small amount of hot soapy water in the sink for washing, and an equal amount of hot clean water in a dishpan for rinsing. Save that rinse water in the dish pan, to use the next night as wash water. Continue pattern.

We All Live In a Yellow Submarine

You know the saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow?” Do that. It saves space in your black tank. And on a related note (pun intended)…

 

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

Pretend you’re in Mexico, and throw away your toilet paper instead of flushing it. It’s not as bad as you’d think! Just carry out your bathroom trash daily, or invest in a can with lid to reduce odors. We believe that when dry camping, it’s far easier to deal with a few extra bags of trash than it is to manage a black tank dump.

Dim All the Lights

If you’ve got toggle switches on your ceiling lights like we do in our 2008 Bighorn, set them all to the half-way mark, so that when you turn them on at the wall, you use only one side or the other. Yes, this means half the brightness, but if you’ve switched to LED bulbs (another way to conserve power) it won’t make a tremendous difference.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

With regard to heating and air conditioning, go back to your “starving young adult in a crappy apartment” days. Run your HV/AC only when absolutely necessary, and keep them set a couple degrees cooler or warmer than usual.

 

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Unplug your electric coffee maker, and use a pour-over method instead. We love our 10-cup thermal carafe, but smaller versions are available, including individual mug sizes. You can make your morning java using no power at all if you use a gas cooktop or camp stove to boil the water, and minimal power if you use an electric range. Bonus: because we use paper filters, clean-up is easier — and uses less water — than with a French press or percolator.

Red Red Wine

Conserve water by drinking wine. Conserve gray tank space by covering and saving unfinished wine for the next night (I know I’m a lightweight). Hey. Every little bit counts, and I am a team player!

We’re All In This Together

Be prepared to meet other RV’ers who are far more rabid about conservation than you are. It’s not a competition. Share tips and learn from each other — maybe over a few glasses of that wine you’re drinking to conserve water.

 

And now: The Complete Playlist

My fine editorial team at Heartland put together this YouTube playlist of all 12 songs, in order. Everybody grab a shower head, hair brush, or spatula — and sing!

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

A Creative Outlet for More Comfort

We are all about living more comfortably with less, which means we are in the process of making some modifications that will allow us to boondock (camp without benefit of hookups) more comfortably in The Toad, and for longer periods of time than just a weekend.

First, we invested in a set of generators, to keep us up and running while dry camping or during power outages, based on this recommendation from our friends, Lisa and Dan, of Always On Liberty.

Second, Tim took on an electrical system upgrade process that involved adding four 6-volt deep-cycle batteries, inverter, battery monitoring system and electrical monitoring system. Don’t worry, he’ll soon be writing a feature on how he got that job done, as I don’t understand enough about it to write it myself.

Third, because I hate shivering at night, one of Tim’s Christmas gifts to me was a heated blanket that runs off the RV’s 12-volt system, so that I can remain comfortably toasty in cold temps, even while we’re using battery power instead of shore power. (Before you buy: read photo caption below. It starts with SHIT, which should be a big clue.)

SHIT! Although the blanket was a great idea in theory, and our outlets do in fact work, the blanket itself did not. We even tried it in the previously existing 12V outlet where Tim keeps his desk lamp plugged in. Nothing. Back to Amazon it goes, and our search resumes.

One problem: No 12-volt outlets near the bed.

Handy husband to the rescue! He ordered two wall-mount outlets (one for each side of the bed), and bonus: they have dual USB ports, so we can charge our electronics on them too!

As you might expect, we had to take the bedding, mattress, and plywood cover off the bed platform and temporarily relocate them, which made for a great physical work-out but a very messy living room.

Tim then drilled holes in the floor, and ran a properly gauged wire from the 12-volt fuse panel in the kitchen, through the basement, and back up underneath the bed, where the wire splits to feed each outlet.

Running wire through the basement means crawling into the basement.

He knows the end of that wire is under there somewhere.

This project took about half a day, and both of us played a part. Tim did most of the work himself, as usual, but my assistance was needed to spot and feed the wire through the floor holes, and to holler “YES, THE LIGHT CAME ON!” when he flipped the switch to activate the outlets after the wiring was done. And both of us worked together to restore the bed to slumber-ready condition.

Connecting the wires at the 12-volt fuse panel

Drilling hole in the side of the bed platform, for feeding wire to outlet.
(This was an oops. See first lesson below.)

Lessons Learned

  • Take the time to cut the openings on the platform to fit the outlets, rather than just the wire, i.e. a full rectangle instead of a tiny circle. Tim waited until a few days after we’d put the bed back together to do this part, which meant double the work in getting all the tools out again and cleaning up the mess.

    Connected, functioning (The light is on!), and ready to mount into the bed platform.

  • Identify and purchase the wall plates you want to use to surround the outlets and make things look finished. You’ll see from my photos that we’ve got some rough spots showing next to the outlets, but only until our plates arrive to cover them up.

    Done! Well, almost. Wall plates are on the list.

  • Electrical supplies like wire, terminals, and screw caps tend to come in lengths and quantities larger than any single RV DIY’er will need.  Therefore we invite anyone who plans to tackle a project like this to shop first at Tim’s Discount House of Unused Electrical Parts. We’ve got lots!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

In Western Nevada, Rocks Star

Hee hee. You see what I did there?

I knew you would.

We explored so many places during our winter holiday stay in the Las Vegas area, that I could spend hours and hours writing up long descriptions and posting dozens of photos of each. But then I wouldn’t have enough time to explore new places.

Thus, I’ve decided to combine just a few lines of text and the “best of” photos into this single essay, so that you end up with just the true rock stars.

Ha! Did it again. Done now.

With great thanks for the Apple Maps app, I can show you where I’m talking about. We stayed for a month in Pahrump, there at the blue dot, which is where you’ll find Cathedral Canyon.
Other places we explored, from top L to R:
Purple pin = Rhyolite Ghost Town
Yellow semi-circle = Death Valley National Park
Blue circle = Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Red Pin = Red Rock Canyon
Orange Circle = Valley of Fire State Park
We also spent a day investigating the “cave condos” in Shoshone, CA, which involved even more rocks, and which I wrote about here.

Cathedral Canyon: It was built as an outdoor religious shrine in the 1970’s, and fell into decline after the owner’s death in 1994. There was once a waterfall, a suspension bridge, stained glass windows, and um… the statue of Jesus still had a head, and way fewer bullet holes.

Looking down into Cathedral Canyon from the top of what used to be a staircase, but is now just a steep, gravelly path down the canyon wall.

My guess is that this alcove once held a religious statue or perhaps a stained glass window? Even in this detailed history and personal account, I couldn’t find an explanation.

A small (and regrettably vandalized) replica of Christ the Redeemer of the Andes

A waterfall once flowed here, at the very end of the canyon.

Rhyolite Ghost Town: The place lasted less than 15 years, following the rise and fall of the gold rush in the early 1900’s, with a peak population of about 8,000 in 1908. Very few buildings remain.

We climbed up to an old mine shaft on a hill east of the city, and looked down, trying to imagine what used to be…

The remains of the Porter Brothers’ store

Hard to believe that this was once a 3-story bank building with marble floors, electric lights, and… customers.

Rhyolite was a mining town, so I’m sure you can guess the two letters on the sign that are hidden behind that wall?

Death Valley National Park: We tried to hit all the stops on this “If you only have one day” guide, but couldn’t quite pull it off. The place is huge, but at least on the day before Christmas, it was not crowded. Word of caution: Don’t rely on cell phone service to map you around the park. There isn’t any. Pick up an old-fashioned paper guidebook and map before you go!

Standing beneath Natural Bridge

Artist’s Palette is created by various types of mineral deposits in the rock.

The view from Red Cathedral, at the end of the Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail

We stood in Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. I’ve circled the sign marking sea level, 282 feet above us. Coincidentally, Tim stood at the highest point in North America (Mount Whitney, 14505 feet) less than 5 months before.

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: There was water here along with the rocks! The refuge harbors species of plants and animals that exist nowhere else on earth. I’m sure it’s lovely when the vegetation is blooming in the springtime, but we found something appealing in its raw winter beauty too. Bonus: admission is free.

Winter beauty in the desert, looking from the Crystal Boardwalk toward the Visitor Center

That’s a pupfish. These “ambassadors” of the park are less than 1″ long, native to the area, and endangered. You can see them in the creeks and pools…

… like this one. The water is so clear, you can see the bottom of the pool, 15 feet below.

The Point of Rocks Boardwalk is supposed to be the best location for spotting the park’s bighorn sheep, but they hid from us that day.

Red Rock Canyon: This national conservation area just outside Las Vegas was extra enjoyable because we got to hike it with our friends Lisa & Dan of Always On Liberty, who happened to be staying at the same RV park as we were.

Tim, Dan, and Lisa making their way back to the Keystone Thrust trailhead

Tim taking in the wide open spaces surrounding the Calico Hills

Four happy hikers and RV’ing friends: Dan, Tim, Emily and Lisa

A rock cairn at an overlook on the Keystone Thrust Trail

Valley of Fire: This state park 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas was also extra enjoyable, because we got to hike it with an old friend of mine from high school, who I hadn’t seen in 30 years! Tim and I visited the Grand Canyon just a couple months ago, and I have to tell you: I like Valley of Fire better. It’s just as spectacular, but far more accessible.

Formations along the White Domes Trail

View from the Mouse’s Tank Trail

Prehistoric petroglyphs along Mouse’s Tank Trail

That’s my friend, Chet, of Speed Shift TV. Last time we stood in the same place, we were younger than my kids are now!

Although wintertime in western Nevada was quite a bit colder than we were expecting, with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees during the day, and down into the 30’s overnight with a couple of hard freezes, we thought it was a great time to visit. The hiking and exploring is no doubt brutal in the triple-digit temperatures of summer!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Sure it’s small, but we do have to clean the place, ya know

WARNING

By necessity, the photos in this post are going to show you what’s in my fridge, closet and shower.

Don’t judge.

When you’ve got only about 350 square feet of living space, house cleaning is a breeze! It doesn’t take much time, and also doesn’t take much by way of cleaning chemicals or supplies. A good all-purpose spray, plain white vinegar, microfiber cloths and a vacuum cleaner can handle just about everything here inside The Toad.

I spend 30-40 minutes every Monday morning on eliminating grit, and making the place look good enough for company. We have no kids onboard, and our sweet black lab, Lola, died in May, so without stickymuddy kid messes or dog hair in the mix, a weekly interval is adequate for us .

That said, I’ve adopted a little strategy I call Clean Plus One, meaning that I add at least one deep cleaning item to my list each week. But even then? Less than an hour’s worth of effort. And I am more than okay with that!

This is the house we lived in before we started full-timing in our 5th wheel. At 2900 square feet, with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 4 humans and a dog, it took the better part of a day to clean. Good riddance!

The Weekly Cleaning List

  • Wipe down kitchen and bathroom countertops and sinks with all-purpose spray cleaner
  • Dampen kitchen sponge and disinfect for 30 seconds in microwave oven on high. The resulting steam loosens any gunk on the walls inside, which is then easily removed with a paper towel.
  • Scrub interior of shower with a squirt of shampoo on a microfiber cloth; rinse
  • Scour toilet bowl with mild soap (harsh chemicals like bleach are not recommended, as they can damage the rubber in that all-important flush ball seal); disinfect seat, rim, and lid with all-purpose spray cleaner on a paper towel
  • Clean all mirrors using paper towels, and vinegar/water mix in a spray bottle
  • Dust surfaces using a damp microfiber cloth
  • Vacuum all floor surfaces
  • Mop linoleum in bathroom and kitchen — by which I mean use one foot to scoot that microfiber cloth across the floors, after you’ve used it to clean everything else and given it a good rinse. No need to take up valuable closet space with a real mop!

The “Plus Ones” (1 per week, working out to about once a month for each)

  • Wipe refrigerator shelves, drawers, and trays with a solution of vinegar and water, which will clean off the  crumbs and spills without leaving toxins behind. Clearly it’s better to do this when you’re low on groceries, especially if you have one of the 8 cubic-foot models like ours. I call it our glorified dorm fridge, and we usually pack it to the limit on grocery shopping day.
  • Wipe out the oven interior with more vinegar and water solution. Since I use mine so rarely, it actually gets dusty in there! Again, you don’t want to use too many toxic chemicals where you store or prepare food; vinegar is a safe alternative.
  • Flush out sink and shower drains to keep water flowing freely. I pour 1/8 cup of baking soda into each drain, followed by about 1/4 cup of plain white vinegar. The bubbling action will help jiggle loose some of the crud build-up inside the pipes. After it quits fizzing, I pour in 1-2 cups of boiling water to help flush everything through. (Caveat: This is the full extent of my knowledge of plumbing issues. If you’ve got something stubborn, consult an expert.)
  • Gently vacuum the blinds and cornice boxes using a brush attachment. Those things get super dusty!
  • Clean all window interiors using vinegar/water spray and a paper towel
  • Pull all the shoes off the closet shelves and floor, and vacuum out the grit that has collected underneath them.

I’m sure others have even more tips for keeping our RV interiors dirt- and dust-free. Wanna share a favorite? I’m all ears, standing here in my French maid get-up, holding a feather duster and rolling my eyes.

I can’t believe I wrote a whole blog post on cleaning.

Sheesus.

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

There’s no place like home when home is, like, no place

Those of us who own RVs have heard, seen, bought, or been gifted with something bearing the phrase “Home is Where We Park It.” Makes for a popular hashtag too, and I am guilty as hell for using it on our Twitter and Instagram accounts.

For those of us who took the additional step of selling our sticks-and-bricks houses to live full time in our recreational vehicles, this saying is always true — but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to explain.

Here are 5 ways we’ve learned to re-think the concept of home.

Home is where we say it is

Our least favorite question is “Where are you from?”

Sigh.

There’s no good answer, and few people — even other RV park neighbors — seem comfortable accepting, “Right here for now.”

When I don’t feel like explaining, I say San Antonio, which is the last place we lived in a “real” house before we moved into The Toad. It’s the city we use as a home base for mail and medical, and we’ve got family in town, but we no longer own property or intend to live there again, so it’s not exactly home, but it makes for an expedient answer in a potluck line.

We were two happy kids at the title company, the day we closed on the sale of our Texas house, in March of 2016.

Home is where we can live in our own space but also be tourists

Because we have chosen to make this 5th wheel our only home, and to spend as much time as possible traveling in it, we become both visitors and residents at every stop.

We feel like visitors because we are unfamiliar with the place, and often spend the first few days exploring the area’s most notable museums, parks, restaurants and other tourist attractions.

And we feel like residents because for a week or more, we are living there — sending and receiving packages; doing our grocery shopping, laundry, banking, household and vehicle maintenance; and contributing to the local economy by patronizing independent merchants as often as possible.

Our 2008 Heartland Bighorn at its birthplace in Elkhart, IN, in June 2016

Home is where we’ve lived before

We’re a retired military family, so we’ve got a long list of cities we’ve called home. These places are where our memories are, where friends still live, and they will always be home to us in some way, even if we never plan to live in any of them again.

In fact, you could say that the previous item also applied to our military lifestyle: we lived in various places for anywhere from 18 months to 6 years, never feeling completely like residents, yet taking advantage of each area’s many activities and destinations in fairly short order — like tourists do.

As full-time RV’ers with an empty nest, we are essentially continuing our moving pattern as a military family, only at more frequent intervals, and without having to worry about school districts anymore!

This wooden plaque, our very first RV-warming gift, helps our house-on-wheels feel like home.

Home is where we might want to live someday

With no exact timeline, we are using this lifestyle to find our next permanent residence, and we try to view each RV travel destination with an eye toward future home-worthiness. We’ve saved several different publications’ lists of “Best Places to Retire,” “Best Small Towns in America,” etc., and this year we plan to spend more time checking out some of those cities, to see for ourselves whether they’d make our list.

Home is where our children visit

This is my favorite one!

Both of our sons (a 21-year-old living in WA, and a 19-year-old living in TX) have taken turns staying with us for brief periods in our house on wheels. Wherever we’re parked can be a home to them, because we can still spend valuable time together as a family. Even in the RV, we make their favorite foods, celebrate birthdays and holidays, play games and watch movies, and sometimes even yell at them to GET OUT OF BED BECAUSE IT’S FREAKIN’ NOON ALREADY! 

Just. like. home.

Both of our sons know their way around a toolbox, so when they visit us in the RV, we put them to work!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)